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Industry Awaits Bankruptcy Reforms

WASHINGTON — The first day of the lame-duck session of Congress — full of potential conflict — turned into an odd waiting game Tuesday for industry lobbyists and others with wish lists of unfinished legislative business.<br><br>At...

WASHINGTON — The first day of the lame-duck session of Congress — full of potential conflict — turned into an odd waiting game Tuesday for industry lobbyists and others with wish lists of unfinished legislative business.

This story first appeared in the November 13, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

At the top of the retail industry’s agenda is for lawmakers to finish work on a massive overhaul of bankruptcy law. A House-Senate compromise is almost complete, except for a couple of errant House members who need to sign off. To dislodge the bill, a dozen retail chief executives from across the country sent a joint letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.), urging him to intervene.

“Despite extensive hearings, exhaustive negotiations, hard-fought compromises and strong bipartisan support, we have seen this bill repeatedly delayed,” the retailers wrote.

Retailers sound urgent because time is limited in the lame-duck session, although it’s unclear how many weeks the post-election Congress will stay in session. If the bankruptcy or other bills don’t pass now, the legislative process and all the wrangling will have to start anew come January when the 108th Congress is sworn in.

There’s also a question as to the political appetite that lawmakers and President Bush have in order to complete legislation during the lame duck.

In January, the President will have his Republican party in charge of both chambers of Congress, which means he has a better chance of his agenda being fulfilled. Now, though the House is in GOP hands, the Senate is still being run by the Democrats. Thus, many battles in the wings — such as consideration of most 2003 government-spending bills — are likely to be delayed.

Neither House nor Senate leadership has declared a lame-duck legislative agenda, although President Bush insists the Homeland Security Bill be voted on. The bill would consolidate several federal agencies, including Customs, as an antiterrorism measure, and on Tuesday afternoon, Bush summoned lawmakers from both parties to discuss a compromise.

“We are hoping they are going to do homeland security during lame duck,” said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, because importers are anxious for antiterrorism measures under Customs to be finalized.

Also in the wings is a miscellaneous trade bill that eliminates or rebates tariffs paid on a mixed bag of products, including various yarns and textile machinery. In addition, the bill clarifies provisions in apparel-duty-dropping Caribbean Basin and African trade bills. In includes rebate provisions that are also considered controversial among textile-state senators and could prevent the measure from being considered this session.

As lobbyists were poised for potential action, lawmakers on Tuesday seemed otherwise preoccupied. Newly elected, but not yet installed, House lawmakers were given an orientation. In the Senate, lawmakers spent the day eulogizing the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D., Minn.), who died in a plane crash less than two weeks before the election.

Meanwhile, Wellstone’s replacement during the lame duck, Independent Party member Dean Barkley, continued to hold steadfast to his independence by choosing not to ally himself with either major party. If he sided with the Republicans, the GOP could claim the majority. As a result, Democrats maintain their temporary control of 50 to 49 seats.

However, this balance could change after newly elected Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, a Republican, is sworn in later this month. In a special election, Talent was voted into office to fill the seat that was being temporarily occupied by Sen. Jean Carnahan, a Democrat. She took office when her husband, Mel, died in a plane crash in 2000.

Meanwhile, a group of 34 states and the District of Columbia agreed Tuesday to coordinate and simplify their sales tax systems. The step is seen as needed for retailers and others to convince Congress to allow states to form a compact in order to collect Internet sales tax.

The multistate tax-simplification pact covers several issues, including the definition of taxable and nontaxable products, limits on the number of tax rates within a state and registration of sellers. The agreement now goes before state legislatures.